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Review of Live StoreFront

Written By Tycho de Waard (SU)
2019-05-28

"If you're going to create your own e-commmerce solution, be prepared for a long journey full of challenges, frustrations and multiple moments where you want to surrender". These words of positive coaching come from Tycho de Waard, founder of Tjep's digital agency. The receiving part of the coaching is one of the top developers / vendors within the DNN ecosystem: Mandeep Singh. Because, no matter how badly we al want an e-commerce solution, crafted by him, it is a serious amount of work. No other type of modules has so many uses cases. And if you want to go international, it gets exponentially complex. 

Tjep's volunteered to participate in several tests, provided feedback and together with Mariette Knap (www.server-essentials.com) be a watch guard, assuring the solution would be suitable for Europe as well. 

Back to the module. The product: Live Storefront. Let's put it to the test

General

One of the first things we always look at: who created the module? Mandeeps has been one of the top vendors of themes and modules for years. Very reliable, updates without hassle, great support, user friendly interfaces...The company of this module is just very good.

And working with the module, you'll find there are no evident short cuts. No crashes, no component that should be abstracted to a higher level, no parts that still need styling...it all looks and feels as a finished product.

 

Why?

Why would you be interested in Live Storefront? 

  • UX. The only other solution outside DNN that has great UX is Shopify. But that has its price. You become very aware of its limits when working with Shopify for a week.
  • E-commerce within DNN is the only solution that provides a shop and the option to actually manage content. Other systems like Magento or NopCommerce are a shop only.
  • Existing e-commerce systems move to a higher segment and become more expensive. Starting and maintaining a Magento shop is getting expensive.
  • Live Storefront has a company and a roadmap. Productmanagement is derived from market demand and every update installs without issue. The ownership is from a company. Free alternatives like OpenStore and Hotcakes evolve when there is free time and/or a feature is being sponsored. That is a different approach, so now you can choose.

The set-up

Like Magento, NopCommerce and Hotcakes the Live Storefront also has a demo-store-setup. Fill in some general details like address, tax rates, shipping and you're good to go.What's different: the module/package is only 2 modules.

  1. The main module (Live Storefront)
  2. A widget (Live Storefront Widget) that can be a lot of things

Categories, mini cart, top rated products etc, it is all done by the widget that has settings. The settings determine whether the widget is a menu or a minni cart. But also the filtering system and its settting, is a widget. It takes a couple of hours to get used to but it is actually pretty simple. 

One of the variants of the widget carries the intriguing title 'product query'. This is where you discover that a developer was allowed to name 1 thing. The settings give access to possibillities like featured products, best selling by amount, recently viewed and top rated. To be honest, we have not yet thought of a better name but we remain reluctant to using 'query' in a name.

Shipping

Setting up shipping is pretty straight forward. Create shipping methods and apply rates. These rates can be connnected to countries. And this is where you discover for the first time that according to the USA there are 2 countries in the world: The USA and outside of The USA. There is no other explanation for a system where you have to use a dropdown to connnect a country to a shipping rate. You want to ship to Europe? Best of luck adding all countries to 1 shipping rate. There are worse things in life but this is a bit silly. A multi select box or continet select  or functionality to copy a rate Een andere verklaring kan er niet zijn voor een systematiek waarbij je voor een shipping rate een dropdown hebt als landenkiezer. Verstuur je naar Europa? Dan ben je een uurtje landen aan het instellen. Niet onoverkomenlijk maar wel suf. Of een multiselectbox of een continent selecteren of een kopie-functie van een shipping rate would have been much nicer.

Next to flat rates you can have shipping rates based on their weight.

Tax

Same as for shipping rates. Great and simpel UX. Too bad if you need to apply the same settings country by country. 

This is where the fun starts

Now here comes the power of DNN and Mandeeps. Categories? Of course, these can be infinite, drag & drop sorting, different look&feel per category...And settings to apply to what widget and SEO and...this has been crafted by someone who knows stuff. Someone who knows what I want if I want to run an online store...

Attributes

Attributes...so, red and blue are colours. And your shirt can be ordered in a certain colours. That's simple. But Magento and NopCommerce make this impossible for anyone who did not graduate as rocket scientist. In Live Storefront it is as simple as it should be. First of all the entry is called specifications. This is where you set colours, sizes including red, blue, large. These specifications are added to products. It's so simple, you wonder why others made it so complicated. 

The specifications are not just for content. These can be you filters too and are used to compare products.

Products

Of course, e-commerce has products. What makes it powerful? The options. Sit down and relax while I give you a run down what is shipped by default.

  • Basics (SKU, name, description etc)
  • From - To 'new'
  • Form - To 'visible'
  • Allow review
  • Allow rating
  • Featured yes/no
  • Tier prices
  • Dealer prices
  • Tax exempt
  • Apply categories
  • Specifications
  • Extra field between specificationsand their values (simple bbut brilliant...)
  • Filter on specifications
  • Variants
  • Combinations
  • Images
  • low on stock, out of stock
  • Actions applkied to low on stock
  • No shipping needed
  • No shipping costs
  • Alternative shipping costs
  • Weight/ Measurements
  • Downloadable product
  • Automation rule (if this product has been purchased, add person to security role Y)
  • Product only for people in a certain role
  • Upsells
  • Cross sells
  • Discount
  • Discount per variation
  • Theme
  • Prices including or excluding VAT

This is not just a long list. This is a long list with very smart features and aggregated functionality that makes it very powerful and futuure proof. Imagine what you can do with automation rules... Not just add to a role but add a date to a profile field and email in 200 days from now 'On average use, your supply is running low in about a month. You can reorder here'

Discounts

This is the first version of the module but there is already quite a bit of functionality here. Discounts on products, categories, manufacturers or subtotal. So, what does this mean?

  • Scenario "all Levi's 20% discount": If you have been a good store owner and have all manufacturers filled, you'll be done in a minute. Alternatively, you can create a category Levysdicount (optionally no shown in widgets). To this category you add the products.
  • Scenario "50% discount on selected products": Create a disccount, go to the products and add the discount in the tab 'promotions'.

2 types of discount that are not in the system, yet.

  1. Second item 50% off. Or a variant on this theme, like third item for free or buy 4 pay 2.
  2. Discount based on a specification like 'All products that are black 50% on Black Friday"

What I think is not good is the fact that discounts are not being shown in the list view or the detailview. If you apply a diiscount to a product of 50% the 400 euro prices tag remains 400 in the catalogue and only calculates the disccoutn in the cart. If you would give the same product a Sale price in the product details, the Sale flag is visible in the lilst and detail view. Luckily, the templates are withini reach, so you could integrate the promotion name. You have t obe aware that you don't use names for internal purposes like 'old crap'

Countries

Someone has been inspired by NopCommerce. with one important improvement: a search with ajax, so instant interaction. 

Measures / weight

Most common usecase are available like kilos, punds, feet etc. But you can add your own as well so if you wnat stone you are covered as well. 

What else

So, what else is already in this first version?

  • Reviews

  • Compare products

  • Reports

  • Notifications

  • EU compliant tax rules (add on)

What's missing?

There are a couple of things that are missing 

  • Free shipping when the subtotal (including discounts) is above x. This will probably be in the next version.
  • Imagine you sell products with different tax rates, like food (9%) and hardware (21%). On the invoice it should be specified what rate belongs to what products. This will be in the next version.
  • Multistore. And this one is important. It is actually one of the show stoppers why Hotcakes did not take off where in the EU. Because a lot of small businesses that moved to online, need this approach. Currently, every Live Storefront modules is its own shop. The wishlist / demand list has been created and now the process of specifications have started. So, hopefully this feature will be added soon.
  • Payments. By default paypal is on board and there is an add ons for stripe. But there are many, many different payment providers like Ingenico, Multisafepay, Mollie etc that are still te be developed. Approach for this: you can order this at Mandeeps who charges 500 USD on average to create such an add on which will then be available in the catalogue of add ons.

Conclusion

We are very happy with what is already there. The fact that there is a good product with good product management gives a lot of confidence for the future and makes it a serious candidate for any e-commerce project. As we have done multiple e-commerce projects, we know that it  is very, very hard to do e-commerce the right way. And we must admit: Live Storefront comes a long way. If we look at our own portfolio, there are 2 items to consider before we propose Live Storefront:

  1. Does it need multistore capabilities? If so, LSF is not an option, yet. 
  2. Does it need extensions that are not available yet? At least the payment provider as the ones available or in fact only credit card and paypal, whereas in the EU we use mainly payment providers.

Do the math

The pricing is pretty steep. A license for 1 domain is already available for 500 USD with 90 days of standard support. Of course, in reality you have multiple domains and multiple brands and soon you need the server license that comes with 1 year of support and sets you back 3000 USD. Compared to other products it might seem reasonable but it is a lot of money. As a web company you need at least 3 customers paying for the purchase and support to have a feasable investment. And that's including the basic extensions only. If you want all extensions, it costs 4000 USD per server. This pricing might make it attractive for some to add another 1000 USD and have the entire collection available on your server. Attractive but a lot of money: 5000 USD to purchase and after a year 2500 USD per year per server for renewals. Beware that if your payment provider does not yet exist there are additional costs to develop this add on. If you have customers and/or projects that will cover the costs, it is a no brainer as the product is very, very good.

 

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